Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

PSNI arrests three in rhino horn thefts probe

Rhino horn has become more valuable by weight than gold, cocaine or heroin, amid rising demand from Asian countries
Rhino horn has become more valuable by weight than gold, cocaine or heroin, amid rising demand from Asian countries

Three men have been arrested in Northern Ireland in connection with a series of raids on museums and auction houses in which rare artefacts worth millions of pounds were stolen.

The suspects, aged 43, 46 and 59, were detained in the Belfast area and are being held on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle.

It follows a major operation which saw dozens of homes targeted in dawn raids across the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The raids are linked to an international investigation into the theft of valuable rhino horns.

An organised crime gang, linked by police to a large Traveller family originally from the west of Ireland, is believed to have netted goods and artefacts worth €40m in a string of robberies.

Over 60 thefts of rhino horns and Asian art have been recorded across Europe during the last three years.

Europol has been tracking a violent Irish gang believed to be linked to robberies in Italy, Germany and the UK. Yesterday armed gardai and officers from the Republic's Criminal Asset Bureau raided homes in the Rathkeale and Raheen areas of Limerick and in Newmarket, Co Cork.

The searches relate to an ongoing investigation into the assets and financial affairs of a gang suspected of involvement in extensive criminality including labour exploitation, counterfeiting, tobacco smuggling and the theft of rhino horns and Chinese cultural artefacts.

A large amount of documentation, a small amount of cash, some artefacts and paintings were recovered and confiscated during the operation.

No arrests were made.

Gardai said the raids were in conjunction with searches carried out yesterday by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and local police forces across the UK and Northern Ireland.

The three men detained in the Belfast area were among 19 people arrested across the UK.

Hundreds of officers from 26 police forces and SOCA were involved in the operation.

Five men and two women were arrested in London, while four men were arrested in Cambridgeshire.

Two men, aged 28 and 46, were arrested in Essex. A 60-year-old man was arrested in Sussex, a 32-year-old man was detained in the West Midlands and a 67-year-old man was arrested in Nottingham.

All but one are being held on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle.

A 54-year-old woman arrested in London was quizzed on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender.

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